Should I use a colon, parentheses, or none of them to introduce the word "Arabic" in the following sentence?

I am passionate about languages —including my native one: Arabic— and a fan of accuracy and perfectionism.

The other option would be:

I am passionate about languages —including my native one (Arabic)— and a fan of accuracy and perfectionism.

but Word doesn't agree to this one. It corrects it to have a space between the parentheses and the second em-dash.

  • 6
    What's wrong with commas?
    – Mick
    Jan 8, 2017 at 17:26
  • Should I use a comma then (instead of the colon)? :)
    – Mariam
    Jan 8, 2017 at 17:29
  • 4
    I am passionate about languages —including my native Arabic— and a fan of accuracy and perfectionism. There you go.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:03
  • 4
    MS Word is NOT the definitive authority on punctuation (nor on spelling or grammar). MS Word can be wrong: it provides guidance & suggestions, but it is not infallible!
    – TrevorD
    Jan 8, 2017 at 18:50
  • 1
    Em dashes in English are generally set closed (with no space on either side of the dash) or open (with a space, often a narrow or thin space, on both sides), but not usually with a space on one side and none on the other. That is very unusual, and I would advise against it. Dec 23, 2018 at 19:23

2 Answers 2


The problem is that, except in certain contexts, the colon is interpreted to be (almost) as "strong" as a "full stop" (period), both in terms of the spoken-language timing/emphasis, and in terms of syntactic analysis. Em-dash, on the other hand, is a hair mushier, but is allowed to take the place of a comma in certain syntactic structures.

Placing a colon "inside" paired em-dashes (or inside any other parenthetic form) is confusing at best and goes against normal conventions.

Thus, your second option is the better one (and let MS Word go to ... somewhere -- it's screwed up writing ever since it pushed out WordPerfect).


Punctuation is largely a matter of style, and styles change with time. I don't see any problem with using commas throughout:

I am passionate about languages, including my native one, Arabic, and a fan of accuracy and perfectionism.

I wouldn't use dashes as parenthetical marks. If you don't like commas, use parentheses instead:

I am passionate about languages (including my native one, Arabic), and a fan of accuracy and perfectionism.

  • 3
    I have not come across a style guide arguing against the use of dashes around parentheticals. Leaving out supporting references in an answer gives the impression (which may well be true) that this is mere subjective preference. Dec 26, 2017 at 23:23
  • 3
    Dashes are by far superior to parentheses in this case. Purdue OWL: "Use parentheses to set off nonessential material, such as dates, clarifying information, or sources from a sentence. ... Use a dash to set off an appositive phrase that already includes commas." Jan 26, 2018 at 1:50
  • 1
    I'd be more comfortable writing "I am passionate about languages (including my native Arabic) and am a fan of accuracy and perfectionism." No comma is needed after "(. . . Arabic)," if an additional "am" is supplied. There are other possibilities too. Jan 26, 2018 at 2:24

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